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Tuesday, 29 August 2017

On India - Book Review

On India is a collection of writings by Khuswant Singh. It is edited by his daughter Mala Dayal. According to the editor though Khuswant Singh had said that he was not proud to be an Indian, his heart was clearly in India, specially in Delhi, which he gave seven reasons for loving. These seven reasons are featured in this collection. He has also written about the other three metros. His description of Mumbai made me throw up. He describes it as a filthy city and with almost no greenery. Yes, Delhi is greener but when it comes to squalor it is at par with Mumbai. Speaking of the change of name to Mumbai, he says no educated Indian calls it anything other than Bombay. Now this is a partisan view not supported by any research. I hail from a highly educated Maharashtrian family and all my relatives have always called it Mumbai. Not because of regional pride, but because it was simply Mumbai for them.

His write up about Madras is delightful, but his writing about Calcutta is cryptic. It shows his utter lack of interest in the city of joy. He is silent on change of name of these two cities for reasons best known to him.

His renditions of Guru Nanak’s Barah Mah are simply a delight. He takes digs at the VIP culture and the celebrity preachers who have cropped up in every religion.

Wounds of partition are evident in Khuswant Singh’s writings. He narrates in a poignant manner how Christians and Parsis painted their outer walls declaring their religion and Hindus and Sikhs were uprooted from their own homes. He speaks of Royalties who had a European as a junior wife. But she did not hail from any royal family. She was either a nurse, stenographer or a bar dancer. He writes how difficult it was for them to adjust to their newly exalted status.

His Sikh pride and allegiance towards the congress party is evident from his writings. He says ‘We have lost in Gujarat, we may lose in some other states and the fundoos may rule us while paying lip service to secularism – or not even that. But I still hope that revulsion against them will build up and they will eventually be thrown into the garbage can of history, where they belong. It is the duty of every sane Indian to put them there.

He writes about Hindu God men and yoga masters and writes about their internal rivalry.

He steps into the territory which caused lot of trouble to the celebrated author Perumal Murugan. He says : ‘Some Hindu communities preserve strange customs. The men among the Bishnois, a small group inhabiting a desert track west of Delhi, choose the fittest young man in the community and make him Gama Shah ka Sand – the stud bull of Gama Shah – their legendary hero. The stud bull’s main function is to impregnate wives of impotent or sterile Bishnois. When the men are at work in the fields, the stud visits the homes of the needy. His ornate pair of slippers left conspicuously on the threshold indicates that the housewife is busy.’

In spite of all the eccentricities and flaws this book is highly readable. The old Sardar never disappoints.

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